I Sing the Body Electric

Today my aunt underwent a double mastectomy with immediate initial surgical reconstruction. In a 15 hour operation they removed all of her breast tissue, skin, nipples, overlaying skin and some nodes and began reconstruction(she will have to have some follow up surgeries to complete things). She will continue in ICU for a few more days but is doing well, hopefully going home sometime this weekend.

I thought about her several times today as I folded clothes, rocked my daughter, cooked dinner. I had a very difficult delivery with my youngest that ended in a c-section where I had to be completely knocked out. I was remembering that last surgery as I thought of her.

I thought about the controlled panic I had heading into the surgical suite, the fear building as they hoisted me onto the operating table with the bright lights overhead, putting my arms in restraints, my anxiety increasing until I realized I was holding my breath as my eyes passed over the shiny trays filled with sharp metal implements resting on sterile blue pads. I'm tearing up right now just remembering how scared I was, scared for myself, the child inside me and my husband and kids.

I won't forget the nurse who summarily dismissed my questions telling me not to worry about it. Information helps me feel secure and I'm asking because I am worried I told her. She just walked out of the room. I remember thinking even at that moment that this nurse should only be allowed to work with patients who are already unconscious.

I remember the nurse who held my strapped down hand while the other nurses bustled about prepping. She wiped at some of the tears that rolled down my cheeks and told me that everything was going to be fine, the surgeon was so good at what he did, that I was lucky he was on that night, that I was in the very best of hands. She told me that my husband would be soon be allowed in and that he could hold my hand through the whole thing.

I remember the beginning of the surgery. I remember my husband's worried face betraying all of the reassuring things he was saying. I remember the beginning of pain. I remember the energy in the room changed, things got more frantic. Then I don't remember anything at all.

I thought about my aunt as I recalled the disorienting feeling coming out of anesthesia. Once it registers where you are and why you are there, the searching of those familiar faces to gauge if the news is good or bad. There was my immediate visceral childlike wish that my mother was there. And of course because my surgery ended in a birth, there was a happy, relieved husband(this time for real) and a perfect, healthy, content child.

It is not a fun thing to be faced with the temporal nature of our physical bodies, even if we make the choice to be there, blood, and guts, and viscera are things better left on the inside so you can walk around sure that your body is more bullet proof than it is, hopeful that it is running as intended and that no original design failures, disease or owner inflicted miseries catch up with you.

Of course I wish my aunt the best, a speedy recovery, the cleanest bill of health and a new pair of breasts that she can look at knowing she may have changed the future.

I Sing the Body Electric(excerpt) - Walt Whitman

This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor,
all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what
was expected of heaven or fear'd of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response
likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all
diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling
and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of
love, white-blow and delirious nice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the
prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh'd day.
This the nucleus--after the child is born of woman, man is born
of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the
outlet again.
Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the
exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil'd, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as
As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness,
sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.

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Rachel said... August 19, 2008 at 11:06 PM  

i hope your aunt continues to do well. ♥

Anonymous said... August 20, 2008 at 2:24 AM  

That was a beautiful and moving post. I hope your aunt has a speedy recovery and does well long term, and I'm sending hugs to both of you.

Spatula said... August 20, 2008 at 3:48 AM  

More internet hugs from here. Lots of health and luck and unsadistic nurses wishes to your aunt and a 'me too' on how much your post moved me.

Queen Mutha said... August 20, 2008 at 5:12 AM  

Your post took me right back to myself heading feet first into the OR twice this summer. What a feeling of being out of control and so scared. It's hard to trust that everything will be ok, I think it's one of those things that helped me to start cherishing the moment that I am in right now.

MJ said... August 20, 2008 at 6:24 AM  

I'm glad to hear that your aunt is recovering well.

I like how vivid your description is from your c-section. My mother had a c-section with my brother (premature) and was almost lost from loss of blood. Right before she passed out, she says she remembers seeing a vision of her dead grandmother standing beside her bed, patting her hand, and telling her she would be fine. She too woke up to a healthy (although very small) baby boy.

Megan said... August 20, 2008 at 6:48 AM  

Wow. Sending good vibes to your aunt.

Mrs. Case said... August 20, 2008 at 9:06 AM  

I'm so glad to hear they let her recover in the hospital. Nowadays so many women are sent home within hours, even following major surgeries such as mastectomies. Don't even get me started on the state of our health care system!! I will keep your aunt in my thoughts.

Gypsy said... August 20, 2008 at 9:40 AM  

I hope your aunt is on the mend soon.

formerly fun said... August 20, 2008 at 12:48 PM  

Jigsaw youth- Thanks,how's the wheels babe?

Jay- Thank you, that one just flew out last night, I started recalling the details and I couldn't stop writing, it was actually a little cathartic. Thanks for the hugs and well wishes on the aunt front.

Spatula-More internet hugs and not the creepy kind that come from guys named Sal? Thanks. As for the nurse, yeah she should probably go work at the dmv or something, how's the art coming?

queen-I struggle with living in the moment which sucks because I'm a Buddhist and that's like one of the biggest tenets but I am getting better. I still remember parts of the story you told about all that stuff you went thru, glad your safe too.

MJ-Thanks for that. Two good things, I didn't see any dead relatives but I had awesome halucinations from the Ketamine I woke up from surgery telling my husband I thought I had written my own Beatles album(it was crazy and musocal:) the other good thing is my daughter was a great weight and never in jeopardy thru any of it. I can't imagine if they had been worried about her, it would have driven every anxiety up about 2 hundred notches.

Megan- Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Kate-I'm not a giant appreciater of poetry, I like my lit a bit more strightforward but this poem spoke to me on many levels and is a great anthem for body acceptance.

Cagequeen- She is very lucky that unlike many other Americans, she has good health coverage. I agree, the system is broken.

Gypsy, when I first read your comment, I thought you wrote I hope your aunt is on the meds soon, and I thought jeez, I hope she's on the meds NOW, then I reread it and realized I'read it wrong, got a quick laugh, thanks.

Floaterie said... August 20, 2008 at 2:34 PM  

That was great. :)

Sending many healing vibes your aunts way.


RiverPoet said... August 20, 2008 at 5:24 PM  

I wish your aunt all the best. The recovery won't be a piece of cake, but I know with a niece like you, she'll get through it. Peace - D

~Mountain Lover~ said... August 20, 2008 at 7:04 PM  

Your post moved me to tears.

It got me thinking about how awful we are to ourselves- we're hard on ourselves for perceived imperfections and we pour all these toxins into it, and really our bodies are marvelous and wonderful and we should celebrate them.

I wish your aunt the best, and a quick recovery.

I'm also reminded that I need to get a team together for race for the cure...

formerly fun said... August 20, 2008 at 8:23 PM  

2 vermont chitlins- Thank you, she's a really caring person, not that any one persson deserves health more than another but I'd certainly like to see her do well.

I'm guessing the recovery is pretty intense, as they basically did a tummy tuck to have tissue to replace the tissue they took,ugh. Thanks for the well wishes, it just takes time and rest right?

mountain lover-Thanks. It moved me to tears too just remembering the strain of it all. Isn't it grounding when we rememeber what our bodies are really for and let go of some of the punihing thoughts and feelings of inadequecy. I know I am way too hard on myself. Whenever I'm feeling frumpy or large I try and redirect and thank my body for being strong and resilent and pleasure giving, and yes, I'm a human girl and sometimes that doesn't work and I cave to social pressure to look a certain way.
It's so much more complicated being a female. Even if we're smart and rich and funny and you name it, we're still supposed to be pleasant to look at, whatever the current definition of that is. It's different for men, they still want to look good but it's an extra and not an integral part of their self-concept.

formerly fun said... August 20, 2008 at 8:24 PM  

BTW Mountain Lover, Blog?

Anonymous said... August 21, 2008 at 4:13 AM  

You hear of very few nice and easy childbirth stories. Only one of 8 of my antenatal class had a straightforward birth. 3 has C-sections and the rest needed other types of interventions.

I hope your aunt is doing well. A frightening decision for her to have to make, but I am sure the right one.

Arizaphale said... August 21, 2008 at 7:07 AM  

I heard a radio story about immediate vs delayed reconstructions recently, seems it's no picnic either way. Very best wishes to your Aunt and thanks for Walt. Didn't they make this into a song ina movie like 'Fame' or something? I'm off to Google it...

Captain Steve said... August 21, 2008 at 11:20 AM  

Good luck to your aunt and her new Ladies. I could not imagine having a kid, and especially being that scared. I'm with you, information makes me feel safer.

~Mountain Lover~ said... August 21, 2008 at 7:24 PM  

I'm still a wee bit shy about showing my blog (new blogger and all) but I'm growing a pair and speaking up a bit more. But, I think you found it!

Any word on your aunt yet?

There's just something about breast cancer that really unites us - survivors, women with cancer and women in general. I participated in Race for the Cure last year and it was incredibly emotional. I remember looking around at everyone and thinking how beautiful and amazing we were in our own ways. I'm getting all gushy now.

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